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–By Tarique Zachariah 

Going to Costa Rica helped me to discover a different part of myself: the Latin part–if I can say that without being charged with cultural appropriation. I didn’t expect much more from my Costa Rican experience than the science credits that I needed to graduate. I was looking forward to exploring the Latin American part of my African heritage and seeing a few sites while getting academic credit, but what I left with was much more.

Coursework never felt so good!

 I arrived in the evening, so there wasn’t much to see as I left the airport and journeyed to my home stay. I was one of the last to arrive in San Jose, thanks to my one-day rendezvous in New York for my 23rd birthday–it did not disappoint. The next morning, however, I was promptly met by my roommates and we headed off to Universidad Veritas, the host school. It was similar to one of those movies where friends meet up along the way to a fun destination–cue the upbeat music. We began our journey with 5 people and along the way more joined until we were a group of 10 by the time we arrived at the school.

On the way to the diving spot. The ride was a little rough, but the vibe was just right.
After being on a bus for 4 hours–including the stopover to get food–we arrived at a boutique hotel, Rio Del Mar. It looked like one of those resorts from out of your traditional Spring Break experience, and to some extent we treated it that way. But, what happens in Costa Rica stays in Costa Rica.

After being on a bus for 4 hours–including the stopover to get food–we arrived at a boutique hotel, Rio Del Mar. It looked like one of those resorts from out of your traditional Spring Break experience, and to some extent we treated it that way. But, what happens in Costa Rica stays in Costa Rica.

After a long day it was nice to watch the sunset over the beach that was fisheries haven.
Over the period we observed alligators in their natural habitat, snakes slithering through the trees, sloths resting around the area, and the biodiversity in the surrounding wetlands, mostly rays.

On one of the expeditions, we visited Caño Island. Situated off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica’s mainland, Caño Island is a reservation legally protected by the Costa Rican government. The reservation is filled with thousands of the biodiversity that Costa Rica has to offer. Much of this biodiversity is found in the Ocean off the coast of the Island. We dived so that we could get a closer look at them and we dived practically everyday. While there, we surveyed turtles, stingrays, and many tropical fish along the coral reefs as well as smaller organisms. The most thrilling of these was the bioluminescent ones which we even got to swim through. We all came out of the ocean that day looking like fluorescent humans; it was the brightest I’ve ever looked.

Smiles before the madness. We ended up having to lift the boat back into the water after the tide receded. 
Another one of the areas that we visited was El Jobo. In this fishery dependent community, the simplicities of life were coupled with abundant relatively untouched biodiversity. The people there lived like a small village would. Many of them were related to each other either by blood or by marriage, and this set the tone for an enjoyable community-centered experience. The fieldwork there involved us moving endangered turtle eggs away from dangerous areas to safer ones to abate threats of poachers or the tide. During the course of that segment, we also released live relocated turtle hatchlings into the water. That experience was one of the more magical ones I had there. I was even fortunate enough to be slapped by a 90 kg leatherback turtle as we were weighing, tagging, and measuring it. I felt like an island version of Anthony Bourdain.

Leatherback Turtle 

The final part of my trip was spent back in the capital, San Jose. There, I was able to experience the colonial history of the country, as opposed to the scientific/biological approach that I was viewing it from as a student in the course. Walking through the town, I saw the remains of the old civilization, along with the newer more modern government buildings. I saw the craft and cottage industries working themselves through the markets. Walking through the town reminded me of the village that I grew up in: Antigua, Parham. The friendliness and compilation of old world treasures, new world buildings and an evolved culture echoed a country that was moving forward. It was more than just a honeymoon destination, but a country that was struggling for self-determinacy, the same way that all of our countries are.

Catch of the day…

I went to Costa Rica as a student only expecting science credits, but gained a wealth more. The experience helped me to see myself, an islander, in another light of my colonial heritage. It was truly an experience to live for.

¡Pura Vida!

Stingray

Side note: I speak Spanish a lot better than I thought I could. Shout out to my high school Spanish teachers Mr. Quinn, Mrs. Lee, and Mrs. Nunes.

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